Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files (FamilySearch Historical Records)Edit This Page
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|This article describes a collection of historical records available at FamilySearch.org.|
Access the records: Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983 and Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940.
Collection Time Period
County probate records have been kept from the time the county was formed to the present. The included dates vary by county.
Probate records were court documents and may have included both loose papers and bound volumes. The loose records were generally known as a case file or a probate packet. These files normally included wills, settlement papers, inventories, receipts, and other records pertaining to the estates.
Some probate records were recorded in books that may have been labeled with such titles as accounts, administrations, appraisals, minutes, petitions, guardianships, inventories, or settlements.
The collection includes a name index and images of probate estate files from the Register of Wills office in the county courthouses. Currently, the following are represented in this collection:
- Caroline (1838-1940)
- Cecil (1851-1940)
- Prince George's (1796-1940)
- Queen Anne's (1833-1940)
- portions of Calvert (1882-1940)
- Baltimore City
Probate records include petitions, inventories, wills, guardianships, accounts, decrees, and other court documents. They include the following genealogical information:
- Name of the testator or deceased
- Names of heirs, such as spouse, children, other relatives, and friends
- Name of the executor, administrator, or guardian
- Names of witnesses
- Residence of the testator
- Dates the documents were written and recorded (used to approximate event dates since a will was usually written near the time of death)
How to Use the Records
Probate records are arranged by county and then by date. To begin your search you will need to know:
- The place of residence.
- The approximate death or probate date.
- The name of the deceased.
Compare the information you find in the probate records to what you already know about your ancestors to determine which record is about your ancestor. You may need to compare the information of more than one person to make this determination.
When you have located your ancestor’s record, carefully evaluate each piece of information given. These pieces of information may give you new biographical details that can lead you to other records about your ancestors. Add this new information to your records of each family. For example:
- Use probate records to identify heirs and relatives.
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about adoptions or guardianship of any minor children and dependents.
- Use the document (such as the will) or the recording dates to approximate a death date.
- Use the information in the probate record to substitute for civil birth and death records since the probates exist for an earlier time period.
- You may be able to use the probate record to learn about land transactions.
- Use the birth date or age along with the residence or place of birth of the deceased to locate census, church, and land records.
- Use the occupations listed to find employment records or other types of records such as military records.
- Compile the entries for every person who has the same surname as the deceased, this is especially helpful in rural areas or if the surname is unusual.
- Continue to search the records to identify children, siblings, parents, and other relatives who may have died in the same county or nearby. This can help you identify other generations of your family or even the second marriage of a parent. Repeat this process for each new generation you identify.
- When looking for a person who had a common name, look at all the entries for the name before deciding which is correct.
Keep in mind:
- Wills are more likely to be found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.
- The information in the records is usually reliable, but depends upon the reliability of the deceased or the testator.
- Earlier records may not contain as much information as the records created after 1900.
- There is also some variation in the information given from one record to another record.
If you are unable to find the ancestors you are looking for, try the following:
- Check for variant spellings of the surnames.
- Check for a different index. There are often indexes at the beginning of each volume.
- Search the indexes and records of nearby counties.
For a summary of this information see the wiki article: United States, How to Use the Records Summary (FamilySearch Historical Records)
Each county began keeping probate records from the time the county was created. Orphan’s Court was the name of the probate court at the county level. Probate records were generally recorded in the county where the person lived. Estates were probated for approximately 25 percent of the heads of households in the United States before 1900, whether or not the individual left a will. Wills were more likely to have been found in rural communities than in larger cities and industrial areas.
Why This Record Was Created
Probate records were used to legally dispose of a person’s estate after his or her death. If the deceased had made a will, the probate process transferred the following from the deceased to an executor or executrix: the legal responsibility for payment of taxes, care and custody of dependent family members, liquidation of debts, and transfer of property title to heirs. If there was no will, the transfer went to an administrator or administratrix. A guardian or conservator was appointed if the deceased had heirs younger than 21 or if the heirs were incompetent due to disability or disease.
The death date, residence, and other facts that were current at the time of the probate proceedings are reliable, but realize that there is still a chance of misinformation. The records may omit the names of deceased family members or those who had previously received an inheritance. In some cases, the spouse mentioned in the will was not the parent of the children mentioned. Also, some wills do not name family members.
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Sources of Information for This Collection:
"Maryland Probate Records," database, FamilySearch (http://familysearch.org/); from various county clerk offices throughout Maryland. FHL digital images, Family History Library Salt Lake City, Utah.
Citing FamilySearch Historical Collections
When you copy information from a record, you should also list where you found the information. This will help you or others to find the record again. It is also good to keep track of records where you did not find information, including the names of the people you looked for in the records.
A suggested format for keeping track of records that you have searched is found in the Wiki Article: How to Cite FamilySearch Collections
Examples of Source Citations for a Record
- "Maryland, Probate Estate and Guardianship Files, 1796-1940." database and images, FamilySearch: accessed March 25, 2011. entry for Emma Maude Carter, filed 1930; citing Probate Files; digital folder number 4103819; database from various county clerk offices throughout Maryland.
- "Maryland, Register of Wills Books, 1792-1983." database and images, FamilySearch: accessed March 25, 2011, entry for James C Allen, died April 2, 1969; citing Wills Books, Prince George's, Index to Wills and Administrations, 1698-1978, Image 15; database from various county clerk offices throughout Maryland.
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